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Bad Bonzes in Buddhism

March 04, 2017

Well, it was just too difficult to pass up the alliteration opportunity. For those of you who do not know the term "bonze," it is a Chinese and Japanese word for Buddhist teacher. We will talk about the good and bad Buddhist bonzes or abbots in Thailand as any faith has them and, as we know, there have been a number of avaricious evangelical preachers in the U.S.

First, let's begin with a very good one, the abbot of Wat Rachapa Tikaram and known well by the author. Phra Kru Vinyalangkarn, or Phra Kru Kasem, as he would be called more simply in Thai, is shown below on the left.

The author first met Phra Kru Kasem when he led a "bai sai" blessing on one of the author's many birthdays some years back. Note the white bai sai cord uniting the monks in the above image. On this first meeting, he whispered a request to me in Thai asking for the donation of a new toilet to the monastery which was done. Since then we have become fast friends and, in fact, the author was asked to lead a chanting for our grandson, Story Kimura, which prompted a quick study of Pali Sanskrit. We will save the infectious chant and its meaning for later.

Phra Kru Kasem is a very humble, spiritual man who projects a peaceful aura around him which is what Buddhism is all about. Did you know the water used in the "white cord" blessing is then taken and poured by the ones blessed over a plant at the temple in remembrance of someone who has passed before you? Doing so became a teary show stopper after Story's blessing ceremony when the author poured the water in memory of the dear, spiritual man who was the great-grandfather of Story, Edward T. Story, Sr.

Now, on the other side of the ledger is Phra Dhammajayo, former abbot of the temple, Wat Phra Dhammakaya.

He is currently a fugitive of justice facing Thai criminal charges of money laundering, receiving stolen property and encroachment of forest lands. The last charge is interesting in light of the activist monks led by abbot Phra Bunthong in northern Thailand who protected the teak forest with their successful "save the trees program" mentioned in The Elephant Story blog of January 16, 2017. However, it takes a lot of land to put together a temple such as the one shown below which might remind the readers of the enormity and influence of some sect leaders in other parts of the world.

However, you would have to admit that it makes for some very spiritual, if not promotional, images.

Another bit of bad bonze business was the Tiger Temple or Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yanasampanno. The abbot, Phra Wisutthisarathen, is shown below with one of the 140+ tigers on the grounds of the temple. 

If the tiger appears a bit tired and listless, it is the result all of the drugs administered to keep the tigers controlled. There were numerous complaints regarding the mauling of tourists foolish enough to go there and the presence of illegal breeding which finally led to police and wildlife official action to remove all living tigers from the temple. The operation discovered the presence of 70 tiger cub corpses preserved for future sale. Moreover, the abbot's secretary was caught leaving the site with over 1,000 amulets containing bits of tiger remains. Apart from the financial rewards of illegal wildlife trafficking, the temple received some $6 million per year of ticket sales for people to coexist with tigers.

Therefore, we have mentioned two good abbots and two who appear to be a bit unsavory. Perhaps, the Sanskrit Buddhist chant, the "Three Jewels of Buddhism" might be interesting:

  • Bud-dham sa-ra-nam gac-cha-mi -I go to the knowledge of Buddha for refuge.
  • Dham-mam sa-ra-nam gac-cha-mi-I go to the teachings of Buddha for refuge.
  • Sang-ham sa-ra-nam gac-cha-mi-I go to the community of Buddhists for refuge.

However, we should add one caveat, beware of the "bad bonzes."



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